Our first principle “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” seems obvious. Of course people have worth and deserve dignity, right?
Things are not always as obvious as they seem.
A while ago, in my little liberal church in Salt Lake City, Utah, I gave a sermon about Everything Possible (available online) and talked a bit about this first principle. I drew attention to the fact that in our relatively liberal community, when we think of tolerance and the “others” that we want to treat with worth and dignity, we think of one-another, or of those who are of different gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural or ethnic minority – but what about acceptance and respect to those who are more conservative, either politically or religiously? Do we find it easy to treat those who are more conservative and who challenge our values with respect and dignity?
Are such individuals who challenge our own values deserving of the same respect and dignity as those whom we perceive as downtrodden?
The principle of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” is not about who deserves worth and dignity. It isn’t about anyone else. Its about me. Its about a choice that I make, every day, in how I choose to treat others.
I believe that our first principle is about how we choose to treat people; its not up to us to decide how people deserve to be treated, when we pick and choose who gets better treatment we engage in the very behavior we hope to confront.
Deserve has nothing to do with it; ALL people have inherent worth and dignity. All souls are worthy.
That does not mean that we have to tacitly allow behavior that is abusive or which violates our principles; we can treat a person with respect and dignity while questioning, challenging, or even confronting their behavior.
Yes, doing so is difficult; I think our UU faith is about calling us to our better selves, and I don’t think that’s supposed to be easy.